The Tempest Character and Theme Quotes
by William Shakespeare

The Tempest book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download The Tempest Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Essential Passage by Character: Caliban

Abhorrèd slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other. When thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in't which good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.
You taught me language, and my profit on't
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 417-431


Causing the storm to take advantage of the fate that has brought within his grasp, Prospero explains his past history to his daughter Miranda. She remembers little, since she was only three when their banishment occurred. Since that time, the only beings she has seen are her father, spirits such as Ariel, and the half-breed monster, Caliban, who functions as their slave. Causing Miranda to fall asleep, Prospero summons Ariel to determine the locations of the passengers of the ship. Assured by the spirit that all is well and all prisoners are accounted for and separated, Prospero commands him to bring Ferdinand to the cave where they humans are living.

Awakening Miranda, Prospero continues his tale. He then summons the slave-monster Caliban, who arrives sullenly. Caliban reminds his master that this island home had belonged to him before the arrival of Prospero and Miranda. Caliban had been living there alone, after the death of his mother, the witch Sycorax. Less than human and living like an animal, Caliban had been tamed and “civilized” by Prospero and Miranda.

Prospero castigates Caliban as being ungrateful for the kindness shown to him. Prospero says that he has treated Caliban with only humane care, in return for which Caliban tried to rape Miranda.

Miranda herself enters the conversation, stating that Caliban has resisted any attempt to show him kindness. He has rejected the efforts of the humans to turn him toward goodness. Miranda herself had taught him how to speak. At their arrival on the island, Prospero and Miranda found Caliban gibbering, without any recognizable understanding of language. Through patience and kindness, Miranda gave him words. But despite his now sentient speech, Caliban’s sub-human nature made him impossible to live with. Miranda states that it is only right that Caliban has been deserted on this island, since he deserves more than mere prison.

In response, Caliban states that he learned language for the sole purpose of cursing the humans, which he does repeatedly. He now curses her for teaching him language.


Caliban, the offspring of the Algerian witch Sycorax and some demon spirit, is the original inhabitant of the island. Living like an animal before the arrival of Prospero and Miranda, he has been brought to a near-human condition, only to be forced into slavery. The payment for his freedom from savagery is slavery as a savage. He has been brought to consciousness to become conscious of what he has lost, which is freedom.

Caliban’s understanding of freedom is of a most basic nature, that of living as he wants without restraint and without duty. He values this type of freedom, even if it makes him little more than an animal. The reason being, he has no other idea of what freedom is. The freedom of bestiality as opposed to the “freedom” of humanity. True freedom, to make one’s own choices and to choose to make those choices within the realm of moral responsibility, is a foreign concept to him. Prospero has denied this knowledge to him in order to keep him in slavery. It is no wonder that Caliban attacked Miranda, since he has been taught language, but not morality.

Yet Caliban is not the only slave on the island. The nature spirit Ariel is also bound unwillingly to the service of Caliban. Ariel, having...

(The entire section is 3,861 words.)